How to Read the Bible

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  1. Read it everyday. I don’t want you to find a reading plan, I just want you to read it everyday. This could mean you read the same chapter five days in a row. This could mean that you meditate, memorize, and mark up one verse for a week. The point is to interact and to be exposed to scripture everyday. We often treat Bible reading like an exercise program, and there is some value to that, but for most of us, we would rather not exercise but do it because it is good for us or we are trying to reach some goal. I may not want to run but I should want to hear from God in scripture. So, we should expose ourselves to it as much as we can and make it a part of us rather than a compartmentalized aspect of our day.
  2. Accept the mystery. If you are struggling to understand scripture then join the club. Don’t let your pastor or your super religious friends on Facebook present an approach to scripture that always ends in certainty. Mystery is built into scripture by God. Why? So when things are revealed to us, that revelation is so sweet and so profound it brings out praise and glory to God. Also, for some reason, God wants us to wrestle with our faith. That means we have to wrestle with the words we find on the page at times. If everything was crystal clear to us then we would have moved on from reading and embracing scripture long ago and have no need for it.
  3. Read it aloud and with others. I have a tendency to romanticize monastic life but one aspect that I know I would enjoy would be the practice of reading scripture during meals. In some monasteries, during a meal, the monks will eat in silence except for one monk reading from scripture. Because of Evangelical’s obsession with our “quiet time,” we think that scripture reading is an individual, solitary activity. For most of church history, the only way you were able to hear scripture is when someone else read it to you. I think there could be great benefit to this.
  4. Act it out. I am serious. Think about those times you have been in a Bible Study, maybe as a youth, and a group had to act out whatever scripture was being covered that day. You remember that story don’t you. The scripture became embodied for you. I have acted out the Psalms in the past and the practice is very powerful. This doesn’t have to be a group thing, it just needs to put you in a different posture concerning scripture so that the words and messages are enlivened for you. Try it with the Psalms and you will know what I am talking about.
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Scripture Reading While You Run

Like last fall, I am training for the Dallas Marathon.* Though I try to find training programs that limit my mileage to a manageable number there is still no substitute for putting in the running miles.

Pray-As-You-Go 1

Pray-As-You-Go 1 (Photo credit: Church of the Redeemer)

The best audio version/podcast of scripture that I have found is Pray-as-You-Go. It is on iTunes and can be downloaded off the web. I place it on my iPod and listen to multiple days’ readings, sometimes multiple times (a Job passage was particularly powerful today but not yesterday). The format consists of a song (anything from Bach to Ladysmith Black Mambazo), followed by a call to prayer, a short reading of scripture, and then a prayer as you hear the reading a second time. Each day’s podcast last between 10-12 minutes.

Pray-As-You-Go is produced by a Jesuit group so the tone might be a bit more contemplative than many are used to but I always find myself engaged with the reading in a powerful way. I look forward to many of my runs because I know I am going to be fed the word and experience God in a unique way. If you have a long commute, spend time on a treadmill or exercise bike, or are more of an auditory person, Pray-As-You-Go can keep you in touch with the word of God and spark a prayerful consideration of his work in your life.

Here is a sample from this week: http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/mp3/PAYG_121003.mp3

*I am raising money for Texas Scottish Rite Hospital For Children. Go here to make a donation.

The Essential Need To Change Your Mind

As we pursue doable spiritual formation, one of the first places we start is with our minds.

I used to think that hard work and determination was the only path to change. I used to think that I didn’t need Jesus to be Lord of my life, just a helpful resource in times of need. I used to think that only certain aspects of life could benefit from Christ and his kingdom. But I have changed my thinking.

As much as Christians talk about their feelings and emotions, it is their thinking that is the most important element to a transformed life.

The New Living Translation takes a familiar verse about renewing our mind and phrases it this way:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Romans 12: 2

Jesus turns the world’s way of thinking upside down. Everything we think is important as feeble humans is turned on its head by Jesus’ life and teaching. Jesus presents a radical way of thinking about the world.

Here are three steps to changing your thinking:

1. Read the Gospels. This is the only way that we can understand how Christ wants us to think.

2. Memorize scripture. Pick a verse such as Galatians 2:20 and put it to memory.

3. Pray for new thinking. What area of your life do you struggle with negative or destructive thinking? Ask God to change your thinking to see this part of your life the way that he does.

Apprenticeship With Jesus: Day 19

For Lent, I am walking us through a book called Apprenticeship With Jesus. You can follow along by reading my highlights and reflections. Extensive previews of the book, including excerpts, can be found through Google Books and Amazon, as well as eBook purchasing options.

Day 19: Celebration at Fat Matt’s: Becoming Lost in Union

–  Becoming lost in unity with others and with something bigger than ourselves can produce a joyous celebration

Some people view union with God as something unattainable but I have always struggled more with unity within community. Some of my most cherished times have been connecting with others in the presence of God, but normally this connection seems always out of reach. I take just about everything I do seriously, especially when it comes to spiritual matters, and I am put off when others are not as serious as me in these matters. I know that this is childish but it often keeps me from relating to others because I get a sense that they are not on the same page as me. So, I get easily frustrated and often refuse to make the effort to bond with other believers.

Apprentice Activity: Playing In Unity and Celebration

–  Think of something that you would like to take the lead doing but have put it off because of fear

–   Let it be something that would involve a movement toward unity

– Ponder verse 5 of Colossians 3:1-17 –  5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

As the summer approaches, our two older girls are starting to ask what our plans are for their time off from school. I dread the constant “Can we do this…, can we do that..” questions and the pressure they put on me to come up with something great that they all will enjoy. I also dread whether I am going to have the energy and the emotional investment to make their activities as fulfilling as possible. But this activity is challenging me to take the lead on planning their activities in order to bring unity and connection within our family.

What is Jesus teaching me? As much as I enjoy being a lone ranger Christian and doing all of these spiritual activities on my own, I know that I am missing an element of my spiritual growth by avoiding the community aspect of my faith. Thankfully, God has placed some groups in my life that have been meaningful and helpful for my spiritual growth. One in particular, a men’s small group at work, has been essential in teaching me that guys can talk about spiritual issues and support and encourage one another in meaningful and authentic ways.

Are you missing the community element to your faith? Do you need to step out and join a group to help grow your faith? Do you need to start a group?

 

Apprenticeship With Jesus: Day 17

For Lent, I am walking us through a book called Apprenticeship With Jesus. You can follow along by reading my highlights and reflections. Extensive previews of the book, including excerpts, can be found through Google Books and Amazon, as well as eBook purchasing options.

Day 17: Getting The Bible All The Way Through Me

– The Bible is like Jesus, divine but with marks of humanity

–  What if you let the Bible read you?

– What would happen if we trusted ourselves to the Bible?

– Are you getting through the Bible without the Bible getting all the way through you?

This idea of letting the scriptures get through us is a key point on this blog. I mentioned this when I first started the blog and was discussing our spiritual enrichment time. I have seen too many reading programs emphasizing getting through the Bible in a year and too little programs on doing the things that Bible says to do. I like the question that Moon asks, “Are we trusting ourselves to the Bible?” I really can read the Bible with the idea that it can help change me and that I can hear from God. But this will not happen if I am just reading the Bible with my head. The heart has to be involved.

Apprentice Activity: Getting Some Of The Bible All The Way Through Me

–  Set aside time to slowly and meditatively read Colossians 3: 1-17

–   Then read and memorize verses 1-3, we will then add one verse each day

Verses 1-3 of Colossians 3 are foundational. “Set your mind on things above…” Dallas Willard says that the first freedom that we possess is where we place our mind. “…not on earthly things.” I want to live a day where I do not set my mind on earthly things. To accomplish this would have a gigantic impact on how I treat people, situations, and God.

What is Jesus teaching me? Just in the first few verses of Col. 3, Paul mentions that we have been “raised with Christ” and that we “have died.” Then in v. 5, he tells us that we must put to death our earthly nature. Dying and raising, dying and raising, dying and raising. There is a pattern here. My old self has been put to death but there are still pieces of the old self that haven’t gotten the word yet and so I have to put them to death so I can put on the life of Christ.

What do you need to put to death? What habits have a hold on you? Where can you put your mind today?

 

When To Have Your Spiritual Enrichment Workout

Now that we have established what should be included in your Spiritual Enrichment Workout we now have to discuss when we should do it.  Most preachers will tell you that you should pray and read scripture very first thing in the morning. They have turned this into some kind of modern day legalism – “by not taking the time early in the morning things will not go right for you the rest of the day.” Don’t we all feel guilty enough by our limited prayer life and intolerance to Bible reading? Do we really need another aspect to make us feel guilty and why should a 24 hour period be reduced to such a short time window?

Some practice evening prayers just before bed as a precursor to the next day’s activities and a good night’s sleep. Others spend time during the day to ward off apathy and depression and some do it early in the morning when there is no one up and their home is quiet. The point is to find the time to do it. What I have described as a Spiritual Enrichment Workout takes me anywhere between 12-17 minutes. Just small enough time to practice while you wait to pick up your kids from an activity, or during a scheduled break at work, or even in the bathtub. The point is to practice Spiritual Enrichment not to fulfill some rigid prescription as to what counts and what doesn’t.

So quit beating yourself up about missing your morning quiet time and find a time that works better for you.

Spiritual Enrichment Workout: Core

Core Workout–  My favorite physical workout involves an emphasis on the body’s center, or core. The idea being that it is from this center where the rest of your body’s movements originate from. In our Spiritual Enrichment Workout, the emphasis is on hearing from God and letting him focus our faith commitment. The best way to do this is to read scripture. But just as a good workout plan will start slow and build up to more repetitions and sets, our spiritual workout starts slow. I limit myself to five verses of whatever book of the Bible I am reading and five verses from the Gospels. I will discuss the value of five in a future posts. Some simple questions that you can ask when you are reading are: What is it saying? What am I hearing? How should I respond?

I always remember this quote I heard from John Ortberg, “I do not want to just get the church congregation through the Bible but the Bible through the church congregation.”

Tomorrow we will look at our version of a Strength workout.